The Importance of the Boolean Search Query in Social Media Monitoring Tools

Jannette Wing Pazer


June 14, 2013

Illustration of someone fishing, with each fish branded with social media site logos.


There are many social media monitoring tools available and it is hard to choose software that will best fit your needs. One feature that is often overlooked in product data sheets or reviews of social monitoring tools is how robust the functionality is that sets the criteria for which social mentions to collect. A tool with a powerful Boolean search query feature will provide not only flexibility for varied types of monitoring, but allows precision that saves time and money from not having to waste effort to weed through irrelevant results. This paper will help you understand Boolean search terms, show some social media monitoring tool comparisons of how they implement their query of social mentions and how important they are to effective social media monitoring.

What Are Social Media
Monitoring Tools Used For?

Social media monitoring tools are plentiful, each one of them with different strengths and weaknesses, specialties, targeted customers, and varied pricing. There are so many choices it can be hard to choose which tool will work best for your company or marketing agency. We’ve done quite a bit or research and tool testing and wrote a blog post comparing various social media tools. This paper’s intent is not to do a thorough social media monitoring tool comparison of features, but to focus on one area which is possibly the most important and often overlooked when deciding which tool will work best for your needs: the Query.

First let’s take a quick look at what social media marketing tools are used for. At the highest level, they are used to monitor conversations and mentions on specific types of websites and help the social media marketing team plan and manage their activities through them. Some tools only focus on monitoring social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. On the other end of the spectrum are enterprise level data mining research tools that will scan everything on the internet, including blogs, forums, message boards and news articles. Depending on what your objective is, the results you find when monitoring the web can help you determine what people are saying about your services and products (or your competitor’s services and products), gauge their sentiment, find out how the products are being used, look for opportunities for new customers, or follow industry trends or key influences. Some social media monitoring software is great not just for collecting the data, but analyzing it and creating graphs and reports to help you understand the data quickly.

Monitoring and Listening

Most social media monitoring tools start off with a monitoring phase, which is setting up what you want to monitor. Each tool has different ways of specifying what brand names, terms or any other combination of words you want to search for. Some tools have a vast database of historical information they search on, others search in real time, and some may make you wait while they compile the results. The aggregation and filtering of the results enables listening to see what people are saying about your brand.

Analysis and Intelligence

After the data is gathered, some tools provide ways to analyze the data and generate reports showing such things as popular topics, sentiment, top authors or demographics. Some tools provide indepth social intelligence. The results are analyzed to a degree where they can provide business insights and recommend actions.

There is a wide variety between the tools on their definitions of what entails monitoring, listening, analysis or intelligence, and how indepth the analysis is and how many types of reports are offered.

Social Media Objectives

What do we expect to gain from social media monitoring and listening? There are many reasons why it can help your business and see what people are saying on social networks, blogs, forums and other places on the internet. When the tool meets your requirements, it can quickly become an integral part of your social media process. When it doesn’t fit the bill, the tool will likely be unused and a waste of money. Ric Dragon, author of the book Social Marketology, thinks the ideal social media management tool does not exist yet.

Social media is still a relative newcomer in the world of media, and doubtless, the tools will be developed. The most important concern in developing those tools is designing them in such a way that they answer the right questions – as opposed to having to develop questions to fit the tools.”

Social Marketology by Ric Dragon

Industry Trends

To monitor the trends or look for opportunities, a company may want to monitor industry terms, or news of the geographic area or industry. For example, a producer of organic foods may want to look for news and trends in the popularity of organic food for targeting a geographic area to market their products to, or to see which types of foods people prefer to buy in organic form.

Monitoring Competitors To Gain
A Competitive Edge

Monitoring of competitors’ names, products or reviews can help find opportunities to grab their market share or learn what is working for them. For example, you could search for mentions of your competitor’s brand or product names and see what the public sentiment is about them. Complaints and shortcomings could be opportunities for you.

There is a story about how social media author, Dave Kerpen, tweeted abouthow frustrated he was in line to check into a Las Vegas hotel. A competitor of the hotel was monitoring tweets about that hotel and sent him a sympathetic (and non-promotional) tweet. Next time he was in Las Vegas, he booked his room at the competitor’s hotel, and recommended it to a friend who booked 20 people from his wedding party there.

Monitor your competitors and see what people are saying about their latest products and services. Observing what they can improve upon gives you valuable information that you can apply to your own products. Look for buzz about anticipated new products, and possibly get a head start reading leaked news about upcoming features so you can react with features in your own product line. Find out what they offer and use that information to help you determine your unique value proposition.

See what your competitors are using for content marketing and which methods were successful and generated the most buzz. If you share the same market audience, those approaches could work for your business as well.

Engage in conversations. Perhaps your company could get involved in a social media discussion where people were complaining about your competitor’s brand and make a good showing contributing positively to the conversation.

Content Curation

Companies that participate in social media are always looking for relevant content to share with their followers on social networks. Monitoring is a good tool for finding interesting content, whether it is a local business searching for local news and events, or a solar energy company looking for the latest news supporting conversion to solar energy. While monitoring a specific news topic, industry or new product, you can observe how much engagement it is creating, and gauge the sentiment to help target what your audience is interested in reading about.

Targeting Influencers

An important part of digital marketing is finding out where your target audience is on social media and finding contact information and a way to engage the key influencerswho can serve as brand advocates and niche promoters. The analysis functionality of a social media monitoring tool can analyze mentions of your brand and produce statistics on the authors of those mentions. This way you can easily get a summary of who are the top people with the most followers who are discussing your brand. Some tools provide a scoring method, like theKlout Score, to rank the authors who have the most reach and largest networks, or use of website scores like MozRank to determine if the influencer’s site is credible. Monitoring can help find the passion groups for your brand or topic area, and help gauge the size of that target audience.

Reputation Management

Social monitoring is also valuable for online reputation management and to gauge the sentiment of customers. Many social monitoring tools provide some analytical functionality that assigns each social mention a sentiment of positive, negative or neutral. Finding negative reviews or comments from unsatisfied customers provides an opportunity to provide a timely response for damage control and demonstrate superior customer service.

What Is A Social Media
Monitoring Query?

Literally, a query is a question or inquiry. For social media monitoring, a query is the custom search performed to find the most relevant results for the topic you’re interested in. Typically a brand would want to search on keywords such as their brand name, company name, or product name. Other types of companies that provide professional services may also search on the names of their services or names of the principals (e.g., a law firm might search on one of the names of their attorneys). Temporary queries may be set up to monitor the names of specific campaigns, events or offers. To gain a competitive edge, competitor names or products could be monitored, as well as terms related to a specific industry or passion group.

You may ask how this differs from the type of search a search engine does, such as Google. Google Search tries to index and cache all web pages and other file types on the internet and returns to you what they calculate to be the most relevant search results based on your search terms. Social media monitoring is only looking for the most recent social mentions on the internet so you can react, respond or learn from trends quickly. Most social monitoring tools do not look back more than a month or two of data. Many tools restrict the results to specific types of websites, usually where conversations are taking place.

The biggest problem with using these social monitoring tools is making sure that the social mentions that are collected during the monitoring phase are a relevant set of information and not a fire hose spewing irrelevant references that aren’t related to what you were looking for. That’s why effective advanced queries
are so important.

Waterspray of Social Mentions.

Variations of keywords to search

One area that can’t be forgotten when building a query for social monitoring is variations in the way keywords could be expressed. Take the time to think about what you want to monitor and the various ways of expressing those keywords, brand names or terminology.

Some examples of variations are:

  • bullet Plurals – Not all tools may accommodate variations in singular and plural keywords.
  • bullet Multiple words to describe the same thing
  • Monitoring a product like blue jeans may require thinking about how people describe types of blue denim pants– for example,jeans,pants,slacks,denim,flares,dungarees,jeggings
  • A doctor could be referred to as a doctor,physician,doc,Dr.,etc…
  • A lawyer could also be called an attorney.
  • America can be expressed as America, United States of America, United States, The States, US, USA, U.S.A., U.S.or evenU.S. of A.
  • bullet Abbreviations
  • Sometimes a brand or product name is abbreviated, like IBM for International Business Machines, or Corp.forCorporation.
  • Locations can be abbreviated, like New York City,NYC and states are often specified by their mailing abbreviation, like TN for Tennessee.
  • bulletNicknames
  • The cars or motorcycles of the BMW corporation are sometimes nicknamed a Beamer, Bimmer, Beemer.
  • If you have a facial tissue product, you may need to consider that some people call tissues by the de facto brand name, Kleenex.
  • Lip balm is sometimes referred to as Chapstick or lip gloss.
  • If you are looking for mentions of a person’s name, don’t forget all the variations of common names like William, which could be Will, Willy, Bill, Billy, even Liam.
  • A beer could be called a brew,draft,cold one,brewski/brewskie, ale, lager, suds, and even liquid courage!
  • bullet Multiple spellings
  • Some brand names can be expressed different ways and still adequately reflect their brand. Hewlett-Packard Corporation could be mentioned as Hewlett-Packard, Hewlett Packard, H-P, HP, or even by its stock symbol,HPQ.
  • Some words are commonly spelled as one word or two, or misspelled as one word or two. For example, someone may spell the brand name JetBlue as two words, Jet Blue.
  • The term trademark is sometimes spelled as two words, trade mark.
  • The brand name ofRed Bull is spelled as two words, but if you don’t also search for redbull, you’ll miss mentions of or the hashtag #redbull on Twitter, any profiles where the username redbull is used because the site doesn’t support spaces in profile names, or any time someone incorrectly spells it as one word.
  • bullet Misspellings
  • If you’re a caterer, and include appetizers on your menu, when monitoring for what appetizers are most popular at weddings you’d have to deal with variations of the commonly misspelled word, hors d’oeuvres.
  • Sometimes words are abbreviated by purposely misspelling them, especially in tweets to meet the character limit of Twitter. If they’re important to your search, you should include likely abbreviations, such as the word problem being shortened to prblm,prblmsorprblmz, or the word services being shortened to svc,svcs,etc…
  • bulletCommon grammatical errors
  • Often these errors in a brand name have to do with apostrophes. A company name that includes the words Actors’ Studio could be erroneously expressed as Actors Studio, or Actor’s Studio.
  • Other common grammatical misspellings are with the words there,their,they’re as well as you’re and yours, which is also abbreviated as ur in texting and tweeting.


Some tools have additional steps called filters which take the results from a query and limit the results to meet certain criteria (such as the type of site, the geographic location, or the date range). However, the filter is usually in addition to or a step after the query itself.

We surveyed a handful of social media monitoring tools and found a wide array of interfaces for creating queries. For the most part, many of them were severely limited, but it may not be apparent until you’ve already laid out the money for the tool and then find out how difficult it is to limit the results to what is relevant because query generation is inadequate.

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